Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.

Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.

Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Hunger Strike at Guantánamo

It is now 119 days since the prison-wide hunger strike began at Guantánamo, and 12 days since President Obama delivered a powerful speech at the National Defense University, in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners. The process of releasing prisoners — based on the deliberations of an inter-agency task force established by President Obama in 2009, which concluded that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released — has been largely derailed, since August 2010, by Congressional opposition, but must resume if President Obama is not to be judged as the President who, while promising to close the prison, in fact kept it open, normalizing indefinite detention.

The obstacles raised by Congress consist primarily of a ban on the release of prisoners to any country where even a single individual has allegedly engaged in “recidivism” (returning to the battlefield), and a demand that the secretary of defense must certify that, if released to a country that is not banned, a prisoner will not, in future, engage in terrorism. Practically, however, the men are still held because of President Obama’s refusal to deal with this either by confronting Congress or by using a waiver in the legislation that allows him and the secretary of defense to bypass Congress and release prisoners if he regards it as being “in the national security interests of the United States.”

Monitoring the hunger strike — and pointing out that President Obama must keep his promises — are both hugely important, especially as the media, and people in general, may well lose interest after President Obama’s speech, and believe that, because he has made promises, those promises will inevitably come true. Read the rest of this entry »

US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

Earlier this year, there was much discussion in the US media about the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo to Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest.

Those plans came to nothing, but last week the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was “considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban,” which would involve some — or all — of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo being transferred to Afghanistan, to be held in the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram, the huge prison established to replace the original prison at Bagram, where several prisoners were killed in the early years of the “war on terror.”

As part of the Obama administration’s 2014 deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, the Parwan Detention Facility is scheduled to be transferred to Afghan control in September this year, and the fate of the remaining Afghans in Guantánamo is clearly part of the negotiations for all parties involved — the Taliban and the Karzai government, as well as the US. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Taliban Five” and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

In the last three months, much discussion has focused on the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. Almost entirely forgotten are 12 other Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo, who are mostly so insignificant that they have no one to lobby for them, and are being rather disgracefully overlooked.

The first information about discussions regarding the release of prisoners emerged in a Reuters article on December 19 last year, which explained how secret negotiations between the US government and the Taliban had begun ten months earlier. As part of “the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy,” Reuters explained, the US was “considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.”

The day after, at a UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin “stressed the government’s determination to pursue reconciliation efforts despite Taliban attacks and assassinations,” as AFP described it. “We believe the process may benefit from the establishment of an office, within or outside Afghanistan, whereby formal talks between relevant Afghan authorities and representatives of armed opposition, including the Taliban, could be facilitated,” Ludin told the council, and AFP noted that Afghan authorities had “put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the best places to set up a Taliban liaison office abroad to enable peace talks to end the devastating 10-year insurgency.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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